Residential Fires Can Turn Deadly Quickly
A residential fire occurs every 78 seconds in the United States. In 2008, nearly 403,000 fires left homes charred black and water damaged from the battle between flame and firefighter. The worst blazes destroyed mementos, killed pets, and ended families.
Once a home fire ignites, occupants have little time to exit. Fire is not the slow-moving menace that allows for heroic rescues in the movies. A spark in a Christmas tree can fill a family room with deadly black smoke within a minute. A house and all of its objects can be reduced to ashes within an hour. The odds a residential structure will catch fire in a year are 1 in 309.7.
The kitchen is where the majority of house fires are sparked. The odds that a residential structure fire will be caused by the primary culprits—cooking equipment and heating equipment—are 1 in 3.13 and 1 in 6.25, respectively. Other causes include arson, open flames like candles, smoking, confined trash, lightning, a curious child, and electrical problems.
Of all the ways to die, however, fire is a drop in the bucket. The odds that a person will die from exposure to smoke, fire, or flames in a year are 1 in 96,300, most of them, (83%) in residential fires. In 2008, 2,755 people lost their lives in a home fire, and death from burns is the third leading cause of fatal home injury.
Residential fires also cause a variety of injuries. The odds that a person injured in a residential structure fire will suffer from smoke inhalation, burns, or difficulty breathing are 1 in 1.89 (53%), 1 in 2.44, and 1 in 17.86, respectively. These injuries result from exposure to fire products in 1 in 1.22 (82%) cases and hazardous materials or toxic fumes in 1 in 17.54. And 1 in 50 victims of home fire injuries are injured jumping to escape.
In addition to lost lives, home fires are responsible for a considerable amount of lost furniture, artwork, electronics, and other belongings. In 2008, the accumulated property loss in dollars was estimated to be $8.5 billion. The odds a dollar of catastrophe loss paid out by an insurance company will be for fire damage are 1 in 45.05.
The good news is that fires aren’t the threat that they were 40 years ago. Battery-powered smoke alarms, introduced in 1970, have saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property damage. More than 90% of American households now have one, according to a 2009 report by the National Fire Protection Association.
However, this same report states that only three-quarters of American households have a smoke alarm that works: The odds that a home that had a fire had a smoke alarm are 1 in 1.41 (71%). The odds a home with a fire had a non-functional smoke alarm are 1 in 4.64.